On 20 March 2008, the State and Federal Governments announced that $1.2 million would be spent upgrading the APY Lands’ sun farm. This project, aimed at increasing the use of renewable energy sources on the APY Lands, was a logical extension of the ground-breaking work started by the Pitjantjatjara Council in the early 1990s.
On 20 August 2008, the upgrade was completed.
As of 4 February 2011, the sun farm had reportedly not been working for more than a year.[i]
On 30 June 2011, the South Australian Government confirmed that the sun farm was “currently not operational” and that it would be “mothballed”.[ii]
The Paper Trail
In the early 1990s, Anangu – through the Pitjantjatjara Council – began using alternative and renewable energy sources when providing lights, power and refrigeration to homelands across the APY Lands.[iii]
In 2000, the Pitjantjatjara Council secured $2.4 million for the construction of a field of 10 solar dishes on the APY Lands.[iv] The aim of the project was “to cut greenhouse gas emissions” while reducing “community expenditure on general fuel.”[v] At the time, it was estimated that the sun farm project would, when completed, provide about 20% of the power requirements for Pukatja, Yunyarinyi and a number of homelands, and produce “generator fuel savings in the vicinity of some $100 000 per year.”[vi]
The construction of the solar farm was completed in August 2003.[vii]
In August 2004, the State Government reported:
The sun farm solar technology comprises 10 fourteen-metre-diameter solar concentrators, each generating 20 kilowatts of electricity, bringing its total capacity to 200 kilowatts. The 200 kilowatt solar farm has a life of 30 years and maintenance costs are low when compared to diesel-fuelled generation equipment.[viii]
In October 2005, the sun farm was “taken offline … after a lightning strike added to complications with the unstable local power grid.”[ix]
Solar farm upgrade
On 20 March 2008, the then Federal Minister for the Environment (Hon Peter Garrett MP) and the then State Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation (Hon Jay Weatherill MP) jointly announced a $1.2 million upgrade of the APY Lands solar farm.[x]
The upgrade will see the installation of “new high performance photovoltaic cells.” These cells were not commercially available when the sun farm was completed in 2003.[xi]
The Federal Minister stated that the upgrade would reduce greenhouse gases and “provide a reliable, renewable power source” to the APY Lands. Specifically it would:
help boost the annual electrical output of the Umuwa solar power station from 335 megawatt hours to 715 megawatt hours a year, saving an additional 140,000 litres of diesel and more than 400 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions each year.[xii]
The Minister continued:
This upgrade is more cost-effective than constructing more [solar] dishes, but the benefits will be the same – low-cost, cleaner electricity for a remote community.[xiii]
On 9 April 2008, the Paper Tracker sought information on the projected timeframe for this new work.
In a reply dated 14 May 2008, the Federal Minister wrote that he expected the upgrade of the sun farm to be completed by 30 June 2008. The Minister further advised us that the project was being managed by the State Department of the Premier and Cabinet.[xiv]
On 29 July 2008, the Department of the Premier and Cabinet advised the Paper Tracker that “additional fine-tuning” of some titanium housings had delayed the onsite delivery of “the new, more efficient receivers” until early August 2008.[xv]
On 9 September 2008, the Department provided the Paper Tracker with the following update:
Since the start of August 2008 the solar dishes have been individually tested and each of the 10 refurbished dishes has been providing power to the Central Power Station.
On 20 August 2008 the entire 10 dishes were activated and have been supplying renewable energy to the distribution grid via the Central Power Station.[xvi]
Additional information (updated 4 July 2011)
On 25 October 2010, the Paper Tracker asked the South Australian Minister for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation (Hon Grace Portolesi MP) for an update on the ongoing operations of the power station. This included asking for information on:
- the amount of electrical output – in megawatt hours – that the station had generated in 2009,
- the amount of output it had generated in the first nine months of 2010, and
- an outline of any plans her government may have to repair, maintain or expand the station during the 2010-11 financial year and the projected cost and timeframe for this work.[xvii]
More than three months later this information had not been provided.[xviii]
On 30 June 2011, as part of Budget Estimates, Mr Steven Marshall MP (Member for Norwood) asked Minister Portolesi for an update on the operation and status of the sun farm.[xx]
In reply, the Minister advised that it was “not financially sensible” to repair or upgrade the sun farm and that the facility would no longer operate.[xxi]
This article has been archived and will no longer be updated. It will, however, remain accessible online as a source of background information for anyone wishing to undertake further research on this issue. Information included in the article was current at the time it was archived. Keep in mind, however, that Ministerial changes and names of departments, among other things, may have since changed.
[i] Martin, S. 4 February 2011. “APY solar generator lying idle,” The Advertiser, p39. Available online at: http://www.adelaidenow.com.au/news/south-australia/apy-solar-generator-lying-idle/story-e6frea83-1225999762268. Accessed: 4 February 2011.
[ii] Portolesi, G and Marshall, S. 30 June 2011. Hansard, Estimates Committee B, Parliament of South Australia, p198.
[iii] Pitjantjatjara Council, February 2002, “Renewable Energy Systems on the AP Lands,” report. See also: Bajjali, D. “Historical review of Alternative Energy Program”. The latter document is an attachment to a report, “Audit of energy and water infrastructure servicing AP Lands and associated planning and management systems” prepared by Bushlight (Centre for Appropriate Technology Inc) in February 2004.
[iv] Wotton, D. 25 October 2001, Hansard, House of Assembly, Parliament of South Australia, p2528-9. See also: Environment News Service, 17 October 2000, “Aborigines Drop Diesel, Embrace Solar Power.” Available online at: http://www.climateark.org/articles/2000/4th/abdrdies.htm. Accessed: 27 March 2008.
[v] Wotton, D. 25 October 2001, Hansard, House of Assembly, Parliament of South Australia, p2528-9. See also: Kotz, D. 13 February 2001, “$14 Million Solar Power Plant for Aboriginal Lands,” News Release.
[vi] It was estimated that the solar dishes would lead to a 136,000-litre reduction in the use of diesel fuel ( see Wotton, D. 21 October 2001, Hansard, House of Assembly, Parliament of South Australia, p2528-9). In June 2007, the Premier of South Australia (Hon Mike Rann MP) also noted that the solar farm would, during times of high power usage, “reduce fuel consumption by about 20 percent” (Rann. M & Weatherill, J. 24 June 2007, “$30m infrastructure package for APY lands,” news release).
[vii] Roberts, T. 15 September 2005, Letter to Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee. The second stage of the project – the construction of the new diesel power station and the installation of new generators and associated equipment – was completed in October 2006 (see: “Progress on the APY Lands,” November 2007, Department of the Premier and Cabinet (SA), page 10. Also: Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division, June 2007, “Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Bulletin,” Government of South Australia). The third stage of the project – the provision and connection of communities and homelands to the central power station began in late 2006. As of June 2007, the State Government expected this stage to be completed by December 2007 (Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation Division, June 2007, “Anangu Pitjantjatjara Yankunytjatjara Bulletin,” Government of South Australia. See also: Weatherill, J. 2 July 2007, Hansard, House of Assembly, Estimates Committee A, Parliament of South Australia, p128).
[viii] Department for Aboriginal Affairs and Reconciliation, August 2004, Information provided to the Aboriginal Lands Parliamentary Standing Committee, Parliament of South Australia. At the same time, the Government reported that in 2003/04, power generated at the solar farm “supplemented power supplies from the Pukatja (Ernabella) powerhouse.”
[ix] Peddie, C. 20 February 2008, “Coober Pedy to have largest solar station” Advertiser, p9.
[x] Garrett, P. & Weatherill, J. 20 March 2008, “Improved renewable power for Umuwa,” joint media release.
[xi] Garrett, P. & Weatherill, J. 20 March 2008, “Improved renewable power for Umuwa,” joint media release.
[xii] Garrett, P. & Weatherill, J. 20 March 2008, “Improved renewable power for Umuwa,” joint media release.
[xiii] Garrett, P. & Weatherill, J. 20 March 2008, “Improved renewable power for Umuwa,” joint media release.
[xiv] Garrett, P. 14 May 2008, Letter to Rev P McDonald.
[xv] Papapavlou, C (DPC). 29 July 2008, Email to J Nicholls. The full text of the Department’s update states: “The major component of the upgrade to the Umuwa Solar Power Station was the fitting of new, more efficient receivers to the existing 10 dishes to better concentrate the sun’s energy. During the upgrade, additional fine-tuning of the titanium housings used for the new receivers by Solar Power Stations’ workshops has resulted in the onsite delivery of all receivers to be expected in early August.”
[xvi] Crisell, K (DPC). 9 September 2008. Email to J. Nicholls
[xvii] McDonald, P. 25 October 2010. Letter to Hon. G. Portolesi MP.
[xviii] On 12 January 2011, the Minister’s office advised the Paper Tracker that a reply had been prepared and was awaiting the Minister’s signature (Information provided by S. Tilley during a phone call with UnitingCare Wesley Adelaide). As of 4 July 2011, the aforementioned reply had still not been provided.
[xix] Martin, S. 4 February 2011. “APY solar generator lying idle,” The Advertiser, p39.
[xx] Marshall, S. 30 June 2011. Hansard, Estimates Committee B, Parliament of South Australia, p198.
[xxi] Portolesi, G. 30 June 2011. Hansard, Estimates Committee B, Parliament of South Australia, p198.